HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – Chances are, given his unassuming nature and dignified demeanor, Adam Scott has chosen to sit back somewhere not to bask in the glory – it is not the man’s style – but to savor the sense of accomplishment.
Whether Scott knows just how deeply his Masters victory has moved his countrymen is tough to say, but Stuart Appleby will testify that it has and that it’s very, very real.
“Good on him. Australia is very proud of him,” said Appleby, a proud Australian who at 41 preceded Scott, 32, onto the PGA Tour by seven years. “It’s the biggest injection of golf excitement we’ve had, I guess, since the ’90s, when Greg (Norman) gave it to us, being No. 1 in the world for years.”
Post-Norman, there has been work well done by the likes of Appleby and Robert Allenby, Geoff Ogilvy and Scott, Aaron Baddeley and Jason Day, but something has been missing. Namely, a Masters win.
“The dream of every Australian is to win a British Open,” Appleby said, “but we’ve done that.” Aussies also have won the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship, which left only that coveted green jacket and, oh, how it proved so elusive . . . to Bruce Devlin, to Bruce Crampton, to David Graham, to Steve Elkington, and most especially to Greg Norman. His heartache there was unbearable, and one would have thought that it was enough to put out the fire.
But, no. It intensified the fire within.
“There’s something in Augusta,” Appleby said.
He should know, too, because 14 times he has had the opportunity to tee it up there. In 2007, when the course was soft, long, and difficult, Appleby at 2-over 218 owned a one-stroke lead through 54 holes. “It’s demanding; it’s tough,” Appleby said.
When he closed with 75 and faded into a share of seventh, the green jacket going to Zach Johnson and his final-round 69.
It’s the pressure that Appleby felt that day, the strain of playing such a precision golf course that makes him appreciate all the more what his younger countryman did. After a bogey at the first hole, Scott played 19 holes without a bogey, including birdies on the last hole in regulation and the second extra hole to defeat Angel Cabrera.
Appleby watched and felt a rush of joy. The next morning?
“I was (still) thinking about it. When I woke up, it was the first thing I was thinking about. Just that it was done. It was overdue and now that’s been put to rest.”
An Aussie had won the Masters.
Appleby had a smile on his face and a story to share, of a tournament in Australia when he first crossed paths with a 16-year-old Adam Scott. Ten years later “he was a world-class player,” Appleby said, and now this, victory in the elusive Masters.
If that alone weren’t enough, Appleby agreed that the story is heightened by the fact that Scott is widely considered one of the Tour’s gentlest personalities and most cooperative individuals. In fact, that passive demeanor always has led reporters to suspect that Scott’s failure to win in the majors (he was 0-for-47 before the Masters) was related to a lack of competitive fire.
How do you combat such a claim? You really don’t, but Scott has said time and time again that he is in it for the trophies, not the money, and that the passion was white-hot. When he drained a putt at his 72nd hole to seize the Masters lead, Scott let out a scream, pumped his fists, and showed a side of him that people don’t often see.
“Adam showed he has that (fire), for someone very quietly well-spoken and unassuming,” Appleby said.
Golfers from Australia have been plentiful on the world stage in recent years, but the pro golf business Down Under has been lagging. Economically, the country is doing quite well, but Appleby said an infusion of corporate support is needed. There just aren’t as many tournaments, and prize money is down.
“We needed this,” Appleby said.
Just as young golfers such as Appleby and Nick Flanagan (a former U.S. Amateur champion who plays on the Web.com Tour) pointed to Norman’s unforgettable 1996 Masters as an indelible memory, “I would love to think that in 20 years’ time, young Australian kids say Adam’s win at the Masters was the catalyst for them.”
Down Under, there is a debate raging: Where does Scott’s victory rank in the annals of Australia’s proud sports success. There is plenty of support to make it very near the top, and when Aussies awoke Monday, their newspapers were overflowing with coverage.
The Sydney Morning Herald devoted just about all of its last seven pages to the stirring victory, and the Daily Telegraph had nearly five pages of coverage. Scott’s victory photo was splashed across the front page in both Sydney papers, the national paper, and The Australian.
Appleby couldn’t be more proud, nor more confident in where it goes from here.
“He’s certainly the catalyst. He’s got his whole career in front of him. He’s a world-class player, a gentleman, a great guy, handsome. . . .”
Appleby caught himself, realized that certainly everything was going in a positive direction, and laughed.
“You just hope it doesn’t put undo pressure on Adam.”
So best to stop, take a breath and let the celebration be savored. It’s been a long time coming.